Alice was not on my list of films to see at the SXSW Conference, which took place in Austin, TX, from March 8-17, but, as often happens at festivals, I had a couple of uncommitted hours and there was no line, so I took a chance. That was film fest serendipity, as Alice became the winner of two awards, the Film Grand Jury Narrative Feature and the CherryPicks Female First Feature.
So why was I giving Alice the cold shoulder? To me, its logline sounded somewhat trite, almost like it could have been produced by an indie-film logline generator app: “After discovering that her husband’s addiction to escorts has left their family penniless, Alice finds herself drawn into the world of high-end prostitution as a means of caring for herself and her child.”
What set Alice apart was the amazing writing and direction from first-time feature filmmaker Josephine Mackerras and the acting by Emilie Piponnier, who plays Alice.
Writing with Surprises
I’ve heard filmmakers pooh-pooh the idea of making short films, but I believe shorts are an opportunity to develop and refine your craft. That seems to be the case with Mackerras, whose four previous short films have done just that. Her shorts all focused on women in uncomfortable or dangerous situations. Alice moves her up a level.
As I watched the film, I kept thinking I knew what was coming next. Time after time, I was surprised, and not in a bad way. The story is believable yet takes unexpected twists. This could be due to the research Mackerras did to write the story. During the audience Q&A after the premiere of the film, she explained how she interviewed many Parisian call girls.
Her research efforts almost sounded like she was preparing to do a documentary rather than a narrative. These efforts may have added to the arresting portrayals of the call girls’ customers, which also sets the film apart.
The research paid off for Mackerras, an Australian, living in and working in Paris, and will for you if you get to see this film.
Acting with Subtlety
Actress Emilie Piponnier brought Alice to life in a way which many more-famous actresses should watch and learn from. Time and again it is her expressions, reactions and body language that tell the story rather than the words.
Piponnier takes us through two stages of Alice’s journey.
At first, we see her spiral downward as her world begins to crumble. Little things, like a credit card being declined, hint that something is wrong. Ultimately, she finds that even her inheritance from her father has secretly been spent by her pervert husband.
As the reality of her situation becomes clear, Piponnier takes us on the second part of Alice’s journey, in which she builds a new life. Much of the strength of the film comes from Piponnier’s moving portrayal.
She is aided by a second excellent performance from Chloé Boreham, who plays Lisa, a call girl who takes Alice under her wing.
Alice is seeking distribution. You can check on the film’s progress at its IMDB page.
(Photos by author)